'There is no room for a Palestinian state in this tiny area'

 

If every Israeli voted at the secondary school in Efrat – a Jewish settlement in the West Bank – Naftali Bennett would almost certainly be the country’s next prime minister.

But then Efrat is a natural support base for Mr Bennett's Jewish Home party, whose religious right-wing mantra, and especially its specific opposition to a Palestinian state, is popular among the settlers.

"He's an honest man and I agree with his policies, especially when it comes to the Palestinians," Benjamin Lamb, a retired 66-year-old, said. "There is no room for a Palestinian state in this tiny area. They should have autonomy, like the Kurds in Iraq, but all this talk of two states, the Palestinians already have a state, in Jordan."

Mr Lamb is in a minority, not only in his opposition to a Palestinian state, but also in believing that the Palestinian question is the most important issue for voters at this election. Politicians have campaigned on the economy, and in particular the rising cost of living, more than the peace process. But voters at four polling stations visited by The Independent all referenced the Palestinians.

Back in central Jerusalem, 20-year-old Tahea Mirkovia was voting for the first time. "I want peace and I'll do anything for it," she said after casting her ballot for the left-wing Meretz party.

The face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is plastered all over Jerusalem, but it was not easy to find voters backing him today. Avraham Schriger, in Efrat, was one who has become disenchanted. "Four years ago, I was a member of Likud. Jewish Home was very small and at that time was not big enough to have any influence. This time it is different. Jewish Home has offered new values, with lots of energy – it is growing into something much larger."

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